Thousands Celebrate Dedication of King Memorial

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/19/2011, 12:15 p.m.
On a crisp, clear day on the National Mall in Northwest, tens of thousands of...
Kitty Chaney (right), along with a friend waving a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) flag, observe activities at the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, in Northwest. Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Julie Thomas, an Australian school teacher on a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., said she jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the celebration.

"It was very important for me to be here. I'm in D.C. and couldn't not come to such a momentous occasion," said, Thomas, who lives in Wollongong, New South Wales, 90 minutes from Sydney. "I wanted to hear (President) Obama speak and I wanted to be in the crowd."

As the throng left the memorial site, Tennessee resident Raymond Mitchell, IV walked with an unmistakable swagger. He looked resplendent in a gold blazer, black trousers and a straw hat. He is a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity which was instrumental in initiating the movement to build the $120 million monument. He bubbled with pride that a man of King's stature is a fraternity brother.

"Wow, this is one of those life-changing moments. It was a must-do to celebrate Martin and the fraternity that brought this about," he said. "Oh, there are no words to express the praise we have and being given the opportunity to showcase Martin Luther King's good works and what he has achieved. It's a great deal and a great moment for this nation. I am proud of what the Alphas did."

Elizabeth Hall epitomized the festive nature of the King celebration. As Stevie Wonder belted out "Happy Birthday" - the song he wrote, produced and sang to mark passage of King's birthday as a national holiday - Hall joined in and danced, sang and clapped with unrestrained enthusiasm and the glee of a child.

"It didn't take a whole lot to come out, I wanted to see the president live," said the native Washingtonian. "I was set to come the first time. The only thing that would probably have stopped me is death. King means life, just the whole thing. Dr. King is celebrated. Despite all the adversity, he stood tall when he was in the public eye."

"It's absolutely amazing to actually see the people who were a part of the first March on Washington be here to see this. They endured the hard times and now they are watching the celebration. Whether King had an actual dream, to actually see this become real takes my breath away."